the crew reassembled in Takaka, we were taken in by some more gracious hosts. at the end of a steep, switch-backing gravel road is the Hughes' amazing household. i suppose i have yet to find a home in this country which didn't offer exquisite views in one form or another and this one did not disappoint. epic deck views. you can just barely make out farewell spit in the second one:
we spent a few days exploring golden bay, spending a day cruising between takaka and the spit, spending the afternoon at wharariki beach and the evening at the mussel inn. i fell asleep wrapped up in a sheet listening to REK in this cave:
i woke several times, crawling further and further into the cave, keeping the sun's rays just below my face, thereby keeping me nice and warm but not too bright for a nice cat nap. a rainy next day let me catch another nap via plush carpeting. it seems i'm usually game for a nap most days, always waking up right on schedule. why not? the Russells were around as well and we feasted well that evening:
leaving Takaka, we headed south and west and reached the west coast that afternoon. reaching the west coast is another dramatic, to say the least, change in scenery:
a day or so later and we found ourselves with only a few days left before our return to Christchurch. we elected for a night in a hut and after crushing a supposed 3.5 hour hike in 2 hours, we were greeted with this sight:getting your first sight of the night's hut is always a great feeling. there you are, most likely sweating, muddy, thirsty and hungry with your 30 pound pack on your back. i usually raise my arms in the air in Rocky-esque fashion, but i don't think i think consciously to do that. it just happens. oftentimes, the tracks go through thick bush and you don't get your eyes on the hut until you're within a few hundred yards of it. this makes for an exciting end to most tramps, as the more tired you get, the more you look for the hut around each bend. when you're hiking up or down steep hills, you can count on the hut probably not being close. when you hear running water, you can maybe hope the hut's near. sometimes repeatedly saying "c'monnnnnnn HUT!" helps bring you closer.
this particular hut was quite nice: three rooms, two of which contained three-story bunks of three beds to a level, the other room a large common area with stove, kitchen, two picnic tables and benches galore and a back porch with wood splitting area. just great. i tested the capacity of our cooking pot with an entire bag of pasta, 8 servings of peas and carrots, two cans of pasta sauce and a healthy chunk of a cheese block. yum.
the day before we fished. no fish were seen until we were a good hour or so up the river. Lucas put perfect drift after perfect drift over one fish, getting two gut-wrenching looks, then a take on a pair of nymphs, which he set too soon, putting the fish down. it was my turn next and as we reached a very long, wide run, we started seeing the jaws come up. there's one! another one over there! again! you see that one?! i got into position for one fish, made two casts, the jaws came up and i set too soon. oi. i'm going to stop doing that. another fish was rising just upstream and three casts later the jaws came up again. i got a good set on that fish and we battled only for a brief minute before the hook popped out. an inspection of my fly revealed a bent hook. bah.
Lucas back in the river, casting to three fish feeding wildly. i watched from the high bank as he cast the trusty Parachute Adams over these fish. then the jaws came up and a solid hookup. war cries unleashed and the battle was on. as i made my way over to Lucas, who was on the far side of the river, we got our first look at this fish.
flying out of the water at a 45 degree angle like a rocket, the fish jumped. eyes widened as we watched it crash back into the water. i usually don't like putting size figures on fish i have lost or have seen lost, but being one who has held several 8+ pound fish in my hands and also having netted a fish weighing 12 pounds, i'm going to say it here now, that that fish was 10 pounds, easy.
Lucas fought this fish well. we followed it across the river, back, and back again, all the while discussing tactics and trying to figure out a game plan for netting this fish. the run we were was above waist deep in the middle and was between knee and waist-deep for the rest of it. it was a difficult spot to play a fish, let alone land it. there was a side channel downstream that we tried to work the fish into but the fish was not tired enough and too strong to really move it where we wanted. we had it leadered a number of times but were still very far from netting it.
each time the fish went across the stream, it also went downstream. rapids thundered below us and with every step downstream, they got closer and closer. every time the fish came out of the water it got bigger and bigger.
the longer you fight a fish, the more time there is for things to go wrong. this was no exception. we were a good 15 or 20 minutes into the fight when the fish took off downstream. reel screaming, us stumbling downstream behind, the fish entered the head of the rapids. it seemed as though it was holding behind a large rock, as the line didn't appear to be moving. i slowly moved into the current as Lucas held his ground, then slowly started feeling the line and then began pulling the line to unwrap it from the rock. the line kept coming and coming until there was no more of it. no fly, no fish. fish gone. down. stream. gone.
i watched as Lucas slowly began to grasp what had just happened. words don't provide much comfort in those situations, but i offered some anyway. the look on his face told it all. the Christmas fish that i goofed got to me real good and i knew this fish would do the same for Lucas.
losing an incredible fish is a tough one to swallow and there's not much, if anything, that makes it better. even if it were possible to catch another fish right after that, it wouldn't heal the scar completely. the fish is gone, you won't see it again. there's no smiling pictures holding the fish. no measurements to pass along to jaw-dropped mates. nothing of the sort. only a memory and an experience to take with you.
i have an ever-growing catalog of memories of fish i have lost and it seems that they're more lucid and easier to bring back than those memories of fish i have landed. i'm not quite sure why this is. maybe it's the knowing that there's no going back, no second chance, that makes it so tough to swallow. maybe it's the constant wondering of what you could've done different. maybe it's none of that, maybe all of it. at any rate, i know Lucas will never forget that fish. neither will i.
i couldn't believe how much my Christmas fish got to me and i think Lucas was similarly surprised over how much it hurt to lose that fish. it's an amazing feeling that i'm having a hard time putting into words. that's fishing i suppose. part of it anyway. what it is.